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Israel Adesanya believes Alex Pereira is riding his ‘coattails’ to UFC title shot: ‘I don’t think he’s earned it’

Israel Adesanya at UFC 276 Media Day

Israel Adesanya believes that even if Alex Pereira wins at UFC 276, he still won’t have earned a title shot. But that doesn’t mean Adesanya won’t give him one.

“Earned? I don’t think he’s earned it, to be honest,” Adesanya said ahead of UFC 276. “I like it though. I like the tailor-made matchups though, because it makes a bigger story, and guess what? A bigger, bigger paycheck for myself when we fight. So, deserve? I don’t know. Earned? Definitely not. But he’s here and I like it and I want it.”

Adesanya and Pereira have a long history as rivals, with Pereira beating Adesanya twice in kickboxing. The two first fought in 2016, with Pereira winning a controversial unanimous decision. They rematched a year later, and despite getting the worst of it for the first two rounds, Pereira authored a storming comeback, knocking Adesanya out in the third. That finish is still the only stoppage loss of Adesanya’s combat sports career.

As a result, the UFC appears to be pushing for a trilogy bout between the two, rushing Pereira into a bout with Sean Strickland this weekend in what is seemingly a No. 1 contender’s bout, despite Pereira only being 5-1 in MMA (2-0 in the UFC) and defeating no ranked opposition. And for Adesanya, it’s just proof that Pereira got here because of him.

“Coattails, because the guy’s supposedly beat me in kickboxing and he’s still trying to chase me because I’m the one winning in life,” Adesanya said when asked about Pereira’s positioning in the UFC. “And I like that story. It’s the story we’re telling ourselves. The arc in the story is going to be beautiful if he gets past Sean Strickland.

“I said Jiri [Prochazka] light heavyweight champ, three fights in the UFC but an extensive record in MMA. This guy’s only had like four or five fights, something crazy. But you know what they’re doing, but I like that because I get to take him out early, before — he’s going to get good. But not right now.”

Pereira obviously disagrees. With two wins already over Adesanya, Pereira said during his own media day scrum that he already knocked Adesanya out with kickboxing gloves, so “imagine what’s going to happen in four-ounce gloves.” Adesanya, who defends his middleweight title against Jared Cannonier in the main event of UFC 276, quickly responded in kind.

“Imagine what I can do with four-ounce gloves,” Adesanya said. “I did the same thing to him in the second fight ... I f***** this guy up in the first fight. Not crazy, but the judges gave it to him. In the second fight, I had him on skates and I made a judgment call, an error on my part, and it was a beautiful story for him, because in his backyard, down two rounds, in the third round he come and knocks me out. That’s a beautiful story for him.

“Go back to UFC 92. Wanderlei Silva vs. Rampage Jackson. That’s a clear example of how I see this going the third time. He who laughs last, laughs best, and I’m going to have the last laugh.”

UFC 276 takes place this Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

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